Thursday, February 27, 2014

Japan Business Trip 2014: Food

I went on a business trip again last week. Not the US this time though. This time it is Yokoso Japan! I went to 2 places: Tokyo and Fukushima (yes the same district where the nuclear plant leak occured, although it is 100km away).

I'm going to start by talking about the food I had.

Tokyo Day 1:

The hotel that I was staying in, in Shinjuku, does not provide free breakfast. I suspect most hotels in Tokyo does not provide free breakfast too. So we had to go out and look for our own asa-gohan. Problem is, in Japan, most shops including restaurants does not open until 10AM. That leaves us with limited choices. So we went to the only logical place: Starbucks.


Going to Starbucks is a very good experience for guys. You get cute bariste serving you, you get to observe cute OLs coming in for their daily dose of caffeine, and you get to watch even more kawaii OLs and student girls rushing along the streets just outside. When I say cute I mean girls that wrap their upper bodies up completely with thick jackets, scarves, gloves and whatnot, but leave their sexy legs exposed by wearing just a mini skirt.

Ok sorry, this is supposed to be a post about the food. Let's move on to beverages. I had the chance to get my hands on a few Japan specialty drinks. Pocari Sweat is something you will recognize if you watch the anime Slam Dunk. Then there's Kirin Cola and Mitsuya Cider by Asahi. I realized over here that Asahi does not only produce beer, they also produce a wide range of non alcoholic beverages and snacks.


I spent the best part of evening wandering around and getting lost in Shinjuku, so much so that by the time I was ready for dinner, all the restaurants and ramen shops on the streets were fully packed with long queues out on the streets. It is when I discovered Denny's.

Well Denny's is actually an American 24 hours food chain store, sort of. But here the menu is Japanese fusion style. It is here that I discovered even in Tokyo, if you go beyond the malls, it is not English friendly. The menu has no English translations, and the kawaii waitresses are Eigo wa hanasu dekinai.

I do know bits and bits of Japanese words, mostly thanks to watching animes with subs rather than the dubbed versions. This was how I placed my orders with the waitress that served me:

Me: (pointed to the pictures) kore, kore, kore.
Waitress: Hai! !@#$%^&*bla bla bla bla desu ka?
Me: (stares at the waitress and give her a confused look)
Waitress: Kore dake desu ka?
Me: Hai!
Waitress: Wakarimashita, bla bla bla arigato gozaimasu! Sukoshi matte kudasai!

The end result was a plate of wagyu strips on top of a pile of tauge and onions with chips, vege and some special Japanese sauce.


Half-assed translation alert:

1. asa-gohan - breakfast
2. kawaii - cute
3. bariste - female barista (this is Italian LOL).
4. Eigo - English; hanasu - speak; dekinai - cannot (can would be dekiru)
5. kore (pronounced as ko-ray, not core) - this; Hai - yes
6. dake (pronounced as daa-kay, not take with d in t's place) - only; desu ka? - is it? 
7. Wakarimashita - I understand; arigato gozaimasu - thank you; sukoshi - a little; matte - wait; kudasai - please (I think this doesn't work as a standalone word)

Fukushima:

The hotel in Fukushima provides free breakfast, buffet style. It is a Japanese-Western fusion. We get miso soup, steamed mackerel alongside bacon and croissant etc.


It is here that I encountered something with the name of Fukushima Special Potato Stew, and a strange drink called Acerola. According to the description card next to the drink container, it means Indian cherry blossom. I don't understand why we get to drink Indian sakura drink in Japan? @.@"

Lunch in the factory we visited was an interesting affair. We get bento with with different types of food, no doubt to really provide us with a balanced diet. The Japanese take their food health seriously.


We spent 2 nights in Fukushima. We had one of our dinners at a shop that specializes in those fried stuff, but the little boy in me decided to have something on their "special" menu rather than the normal popular choices. I had the Aomori bla bla bla bla buta teishoku, which actually turns out to be really really good.


Half-assed translation alert again:

1. bento - meal box
2. Aomori - a place in Japan (my big bro used to study here hehehe); buta - pork; teishoku - set meal

But the highlight of Fukushima was the other dinner that we had, which was more extravagant. You see, we had a Japanese host that took care of us and provided translation service. He treated us to dinner and this was roughly what happened:

Host: Before we start eating, we must have a beer. Japanese culture.



Host: We must have another beer to go with the appetizer.


He introduced us to this thing called nato. It is basically fermented beans. I suspect it is the same raw ingredient used to make those smelly tofu.



After the beer and appetizers, time for main courses...

Host: Is this you guys first time to Japan? Then you must try the Yamazaki. Very special Japanese drink.



He also introduced us to this thing that comes together in the sashimi moriawase platter. He told us it is "before egg", It's that bowl of white-ish thing in the middle.



After we were done eating...

Host: Okay we are done with food. Now is time for a serious drink.

Us all: @.@" ok...

Host: Let's have the Kaku Single Rock. It is a good drink for the singles.


Well our host is a very well traveled man. He had few year stints in Bangkok, UK, Sweden, and wherever else that he did not tell us. So maybe this is not exactly how a typical dinner with Japanese is.

Back to Tokyo:

We spent 2 days in Fukushima spending nothing on meals as our host paid for all our meals. So once we made it back to Tokyo, we decided to splurge a little. We went to some sort of a western style seafood restaurant located on the 13th floor of Takashimaya Time Square in Shinjuku. Tokyo Ocean Grill or something like that. Twice. Once for lunch and once for dinner.





Also had a sushi meal in the same floor at a place called Tsukiji Tamazushi. Tsukiji is actually that seaside place where they do all those exciting tuna bidding. Probably this restaurant gets their fish supply from Tsukiji or something. First time I had cawanmushi that comes with some sauce on top of the egg.



Then at Haneda Airport for our flight back to Malaysia, finally had the chance to try the famed Tonkotsu Ramen, and experience placing order from the vending machine.


Yeah, I guess food wise, this trip has been very interesting :D